Monday, July 13, 2015

Kent Haruf’s “Our Souls at Night”

Five days before he died last year, author Kent Haruf was interviewed by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which had staged several of his novels. The focus was his most recent and, as it turned out, his last novel, Our Souls at Night. “In some way,” he said, “it (writing the novel) felt as if it was keeping me alive.”

The writing kept Our Souls at Night alive for us, the readers, as well.

Louis Waters is a retired high school history teacher. His wife had died from cancer many years before, and he lives a solitary life. Addie Moore is a widow whose husband died suddenly (during a church service) long before. Addie comes to Louis with a proposal – to sleep together. Not in the way we would expect, and in the way the townspeople of Holt, Colorado, expect. No, Addie’s proposal has to do with companionship and talking at night, with the physical relationship being no more than holding hands.

Louis eventually agrees. He discovers, as Addie has, that loneliness isn’t a mandatory condition of old age.

And so these two aging people come together and tell each other the stories of their lives, the tragedies and sorrows, the good times and bad. We learn of Louis’s infidelity decades before, and how Addie’s daughter died as a child. We listen to them talk about their grown children, and about the hopes and dreams of two lives. Addie’s five-year-old grandson Jamie comes to live with her for a time, and that requires some adjustments for Louis and Addie, but it works out.

Haruf is a master storyteller, speaking the language of the small town that he has spoken before in his previous novels (I recently reviewed his novel Plainsong here.) He strips his stories down to people; there’s not much here on landscape or setting or even weather. The dialogue is written without quotation marks, further focusing on the people themselves and added a distinct impression of quiet. No one seems to shout in Haruf’s novels, even when they’re shouting.

Our Souls at Night is a beautiful story about two people who find companionship, an antidote to the terminal loneliness of old age and, yes, even love.

Image of Kent Haruf by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

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